I have been using Gmail since its early invite-only beta days in 2004. As explained by Google, they were involved in a dispute over the use of the Gmail name in the UK, so they were forced to rebrand the UK service to Google Mail in 2005. Existing UK users were allowed to keep their @gmail.com address (although the logo on the Gmail interface switched to the new Google Mail logo), while any new customers were assigned a @googlemail.com address.
Fast forward to today and it appears that Google have reached a settlement, as they have rebranded back to Gmail in the UK. Effective immediately, new UK users will again be able to sign up for @gmail.com addresses, while existing users will be able to choose whether to switch or to keep their old @googlemail.com addresses. The Google Mail logo will also be phased out and replaced with the Gmail logo.
This doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things, as whether the “official” email address (as displayed in the Gmail user interface and in the From field of all sent emails) is @gmail.com or @googlemail.com, the domains are actually interchangeable, but it’s still a good step forward which will eliminate a lot confusion.
The only country in which the Google Mail brand now exists is Germany, where there is an ongoing dispute between Google and the owners of German company G-Mail. Maybe Google will now look to resolve this and be able to offer Gmail as a truly global brand.
One of the factors that dictates browsing speed is the time it takes to do a DNS lookup – that is, convert a domain name such as google.com into an IP address such as 126.96.36.199. Generally most people use the DNS servers operated by their ISP. Usually this is fine, but sometimes ISP DNS servers can be unreliable, and they’re not always the fastest choice.
There are many free public DNS services, such as OpenDNS and search giant Google’s Public DNS, but it’s difficult to know which one is best for you. Enter NameBench, a free cross-platform tool which tests a raft of public DNS services using either your browser history or a list of top domains. Once the tests are complete, you receive a summary of the results including suggested primary, secondary and tertiary servers:
So if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, why not see if you can shave a few milliseconds from your page load times?
Google offer a standalone installer for the Windows build of Google Chrome, as opposed to the standard download which is actually just a small stub application that connects to Google’s servers to download and install the actual browser.
The offline installer is handy if you have a number of machines on which to install or update Chrome, but unfortunately Google haven’t updated it recently, so you end up with version 188.8.131.52 rather than the latest all-singing, all-dancing, extension-supporting version 184.108.40.206.
You can of course update to 220.127.116.11 from the About screen, but this defeats the purpose of using the standalone installer in the first place, and you may be unlucky enough to be on a corporate network which breaks the in-browser upgrade functionality.
By using Fiddler2 to monitor the activity of the stub installer, I was able to establish that it connects to the following google.com URL to download the latest build:
The beta version of Google Chrome has supported extensions for many months, but Google today released a stable Windows version of Chrome 4.0 which supports extensions together with a handful of other features and improvements. Both The Official Google Blog and the Google Chrome blog have full details.
To get the update, click the About Google Chrome menu option (viathe spanner icon) and click Check for Updates.
I’ll keep this post short and sweet as I’m now off to the extensions gallery to pick up some new enhancements for my favourite browser!
I noticed today that the Google logo shown at the top of all search results is actually a composite image, sliced up through clever use of CSS positioning:
At first, I thought of this as nothing more than a neat trick, but then I began to think about why Google might have decided to use this technique to their advantage.
Whenever a client browser requests a page, it will also make a request for each of the images (and other media) embedded into the page. Once an image has been displayed once, it is usually cached client-side to conserve bandwidth and improve performance for subsequent loads. For example, the RSS logo at the top of my blog will be downloaded from my server on your first visit, but as you move through the site, future references to the file will be fulfilled from your browser’s cache.
Google isn’t particularly image-heavy, but a typical results page could contain five or more ‘sprites’ or graphical elements. By squeezing them into a single file, user’s Web browsers need only make two requests (one for the page itself and one for the composite image) instead of six or more.
This might sound trivial, but considering that Google serve billions of result pages to millions of different visitors every day, the cumulative saving in bandwidth and server resources is likely to add up to quite a figure.
If you operate a moderately high-traffic site, it might be worth considering using similar tactics. The only other site that I’ve noticed that has used CSS image slicing in this way is the now-defunct Cdiscount UK site, for its pricing images.
Google Reader allows you to star articles to read later, which is handy. However, I’ve been happily starring away items since I’ve started using Reader, and have built up quite a backlog. On the advice of a friend who was horrified by this, I decided to unstar all items before a certain date. Surprisingly, Google Reader doesn’t currently give you a way to do this, besides unstarring each item individually, which isn’t much fun when you have over 500, even using the ‘s’ (star/unstar) and ‘j’ (jump to next item) keyboard shortcuts.
To automate this process, I whipped up this quick and dirty AutoHotkey script:
As you may have worked out, this simply simulates a press of the ‘s’ key, waits ten milliseconds, simulates the ‘j’ key, waits again, then repeats the process 600 times.
The first line of the file means “do the below when the user presses Ctrl+Alt+R”.
So all I had to do was save the script, double-click the .AHK file to activate it, then click on “Starred items” with Reader, click to open the first one and press Ctrl+Alt+R to instruct the script to start rifling through your items, unstarring them one by one. Because I had slightly less than 600 starred items, I found that the script “sticks” on the last item, starring and unstarring it repeatedly until I killed the script by right-clicking the “H” icon in the taskbar and clicking Exit.
Feel free to use my script to clear down your own starred items. If you find that the script seems to miss the odd item, you may need to increase the 10 ms delay.
As you probably know, Google has a very good calculator feature built-in. However, if you use Firefox, you don’t even need to access the Google website to use it – just type your sum in the search box (with the Google search engine selected) and, as if by magic, the answer will appear below, in the box normally reserved for suggested search phrases.